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Overall Performance

In general terms, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 is a quick and nimble performer. Whether using the touchscreen, on-camera controls, or a combination of both, menus and settings are quite responsive. Startup time is acceptable, at around 0.8 seconds, and apart from occasional buffer overruns in continuous shooting mode, we rarely found ourselves waiting on this camera.

The well-implemented touchscreen interface means that you can make between-shot adjustments quickly and easily. As we mentioned elsewhere, the loss of the AF/AE lock button has the potential to slow things down for those who use this feature a lot. Again, how you feel about the G3's performance will depend to some extent on your previous camera experience. If you find yourself gravitating towards the G3 from previous experience with a point and shoot camera you will find it to be a responsive, intuitive camera that encourages manual control without presenting too many baffling shooting and exposure options. If you're considering the G3 as a second body to use alongside a DSLR you'll love its small size and low weight but you may find the comparative lack of buttons a bit jarring.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

The G3 has four burst modes, SH, H, M, and L. We'll discuss the SH mode in the following section, but in H mode the G3 clocks in at an impressive 4 frames per second at its highest image quality settings. Capturing 16MP files (vs 12MP in the G2 and GF2) does, however, incur a noticeable performance hit on both the buffer fill rate and length of time the camera remains locked up after a burst of images.

At any capture setting other than JPEG only, you're going to have long wait times before you can start shooting again. As expected, the slowest performance occurs when you shoot RAW and JPEG simultaneously. In any configuration, once a burst of images fills the buffer, the frame rate drops to well below 1fps. On a positive note we have found that unlike the GF2 and GH2, the G3's framerate and buffer fill rates are virtually identical regardless of focal length using both the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS kit lens and the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm F4-5.8 OIS.

A high continuous shooting rate is all well and good, but it should be noted that in the G3, live view is maintained in M and L continuous shooting modes only. In our experience, the gain in fps offered by H mode is tempered by the fact that you cannot see what the camera is actually capturing, only the image that it has just captured. Although this generally isn't a problem when shooting static subjects, lack of live view greatly reduces your ability for instance, to pan accurately while following a subject. For this reason, when shooting fast action, we much prefer to keep the G3 set to M continuous shooting mode. Additionally, we found that with the camera set to record JPEG-only, M mode allows you to capture roughly twice as many frames as you can in H mode before filling the buffer. When shooting Raw or Raw plus JPEG, buffer fill rates were virtually identical.

To generate the timings shown below, we shot with the camera's burst mode set to H.

Burst of JPEG 16MP/Fine images

8 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro
Frame rate 4 fps
Number of frames 8
Buffer full rate 0.5 fps
Write complete 2 sec

Burst of RAW images

8 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro
Frame rate 4 fps
Number of frames 8
Buffer full rate 0.5 fps
Write complete 15 sec

Burst of RAW plus JPEG 16MP/Fine images

8 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro
Frame rate 4 fps
Number of frames 7
Buffer full rate 0.33 fps
Write complete 22 sec

Even with our fast test card, we couldn't coax more than 8 images out of the G3 in a single burst. Granted, this is an improvement over the performance of the G2. If you require longer shooting bursts, however, your only option is to lower the Picture Size to Medium (8MP). At this setting we were able to shoot well over 100 frames at a continuous rate of just slightly over 3fps. And even when the writing-to-card icon appeared onscreen, we were able to continue shooting at the same frame rate.

20fps Drive mode (4Mp)

The G3 ups the ante with an SH burst mode that captures 4MP images at 20 frames per second. In the current G-series lineup this is second only to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and far surpasses the maximum burst rate of the GF2.

This short sequence gives you some idea of what 20fps looks like when SH continuous shooting mode is engaged on the G3

There's no such thing as a free lunch, however, and to achieve 20fps you have to accept some sacrifices. The first thing you give up is live view. Just like shooting in 'H' continuous mode, during a 20fps capture burst the viewfinder/LCD screen displays a review of the images already captured, as opposed to a real-time view of the scene.

In addition, the resulting images are 4MP JPEGs (RAW mode is disabled when SH is selected). At a resolution of 2272 x 1704 you have, in theory, enough pixels for a decent quality 8x10 print. But there is a penalty to be paid in terms of image quality. The 20fps files exhibit prominent artifacts along diagonal edges, excessive moiré in a variety of patterned objects, and are noticeably short on fine detail.

Shooting in SH burst mode yields noticeably inferior image quality than we'd expect from a conventional 4Mp capture. Above you see 100% crops of a SH burst mode image on the left, and on the right is the same scene captured by the camera when set to 4MP single shot mode. The two files have the same pixel dimensions but you can easily see loss of detail and jagged edges in the frame captured in SH mode.

With such a drastic reduction in image quality, SH mode is best suited to images destined for the web or very small prints. Admittedly, criticizing a mode like this for delivering less than perfect image quality is a little like criticizing the accent of a talking dog. The ability to capture 20fps, at image quality more than suitable for the web, from a camera in this price range is impressive.

Autofocus speed / accuracy

We have always been impressed with the AF performance of the G-series cameras compared both with competitive systems that use contrast-detection AF and even some entry-level DSLRs. The G3 is no exception. Thanks to the increased speed of the sensor readout, the G3's AF performance feels just that much more sure and solid than the G2 and GF2, and on a par with the more expensive GH2. In well lit scenes of static subjects with strong contrast, we commonly found acquisition times from shutter press to image capture as fast as 0.3 seconds which is very impressive indeed. As we'd expect, AF speed varies depending on the lens being used. One of the significantly slower performers in this regard is the Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH lens, which we find typically focuses twice as slowly as both the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm F4-5.8 OIS and the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS kit lens.

Of course, the Achilles heel of any contrast-detection AF system is low light, poor subject contrast or a combination of the two. Overall, we found performance in these environments to be on par with that of entry-level DSLRs. As such, the G3 wouldn't be our first choice for shooting a sports event, but in daily outdoor use with the kit lens, we have found that it very rarely lets us down.

AFC tracking

When set to AFC mode (continuous autofocus) the G3 employs its contrast-detection AF to track the subject. Based on the tracking performance of previous G-series models we were not expecting miracles here, and our experience of shooting has proven that our caution is justified.

We found the G3's AFC tracking to be most successful in well-lit scenes with subjects of strong contrast that move rather consistently. When panning the camera in order to keep the subject relatively close to the central area of the viewfinder/LCD screen, we routinely saw hit rates in the 40% range. With very slow moving subjects we were able to get as many as half of the images in acceptable focus. In and of itself, we feel that AFC tracking is a reasonably good option as long as you set your expectations accordingly. To be fair, however, we should note that this level of performance compares very well against the G3's mirrorless interchangeable lens competitors. We actually find it to be on par with the performance of some entry-level DSLRs.

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